Methane Research Programme
The NZAGRC methane programme is jointly planned and funded in partnership with the PGgRc and aligns with existing MPI programmes funded through SLMACC and New Zealand funding in support of the Global Research Alliance on agricultural greenhouse gases. It aims to reduce emissions by directly targeting the methane producing methanogens through the discovery of small molecule inhibitors and vaccines and indirectly through feeding and changes in animal phenotype.
- Breeding: Research to understand the genetics of host control of ruminant methane emissions, which aims to develop genetic and genomic selection technologies to reduce methane yield and intensity in sheep. The current stage of the programme involves the development and dissemination of practical tools for selection for lowered emissions. A major part of maximising impact and uptake is to explore relative economic value from increased production and potential increased feed utilisation associated with lowered methane
- Vaccine (jointly supported by PGgRc): A prototype vaccine (which after further development is aimed at producing a vaccine targeted at reducing methane emissions in cattle and sheep by 20%) is being formulated with the help of a commercial partner
- Inhibitors (previously jointly funded but now fully funded by PGgRc): Research to develop cost-effective inhibitors that reduce methane emissions by at least 20% in sheep and cattle—without reducing productivity—is now being developed, with a view to bring the technology to market
- Modelling: A tool to help scientists in the NZAGRC/PGgRc programme to develop hypotheses and predict responses in methane formation is in its final stages
Current progress and research stories
The current objectives within the NZAGRC methane programme have made significant progress this year, with the sheep breeding programme getting closer to delivering breeding values to the national flock.
Important finding in sheep vaccination trials
During 2017/18, a sheep vaccination trial, including measurement of methane emissions, was conducted and all vaccinated animals produced antibodies against each of the 19 protein/protein fusions present in the mix of recombinant proteins. This is an important finding as anti-methanogen vaccines are very likely to contain multiple antigens. The issues that arose with assay repeatability in the vaccine programme in 2016/17 have been addressed over the past year. The methanogen growth assay has been refined in order to ensure reliable testing of antibodies against candidate vaccine targets. New auxiliary assays (ELISA, Western blotting, flow cytometry) for measuring ‘effectiveness’ of antibodies produced against specific targets have been developed.
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